ORLANDO, Fla. - Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a March 13 interview here that the 2012 elections offer the nation a choice between two completely different philosophies: one that says job creation and rebuilding of the middle class are essential, and another that says "you are on your own, pick yourself up and then when you do it, do everything I tell you to do."
She talked with peoplesworld.org during a break in proceedings at a meeting of the AFL-CIO's executive council where the federation is mapping its plans for the 2012 elections. The AFL-CIO had voted to endorse the president's reelection bid shortly before Weingarten was interviewed.
The AFT, like a number of other unions, had already endorsed President Barack Obama before this meeting.
Weingarten drew a graphic picture of what the choice she opposes in this election means in human terms.
"My union represents a janitor in Wisconsin who was impacted by Gov. Walker's attacks on collective bargaining rights," she said. "He now pays 16 percent more in health care costs, and this man is paying more taxes than are paid by the General Electric Corporation in total."
Weingarten said with all the talk about rebuilding the middle class, everyone needs to remember doing so is a matter of public policy.
As unions grow weaker, she said, "you find more and more people in poverty. It is no accident that you see poverty growing from 1973 until now. You saw union membership during that period slip from 34 percent to eight percent."
Weingarten said for the labor movement the 2012 elections are about fighting "to turn that around."
"This unfairness is the direction in which the other side wants to take us," she said, "and this is why the issue of economic fairness and Occupy Wall Street now has so much traction across the country."
Regarding public education, Weingarten said the main challenge comes from income inequality, not teachers, who are being used as scapegoats.
"Public education is key to helping build broad prosperity," she said, "but we cannot expect teachers to solve all the problems created by the income inequality in this country. We must get to the cause of the problem, the weakening of bargaining power and to the solution, stronger and bigger unions."
Photo: AFT members hold a Bake Sale for America's Future, October 2011. (AFT/Facebook)